Game 77 // Fourth Inning, S.F. // The San Francisco Bumgarners

BOTTOM OF THE FOURTH: GIANTS 5 (0) – 4 METS

 

A beet-red moon hovers over the great bay in the distance, rising above bridges and changing into a Giants-baseball orange, and then finally yellow and white—far beyond the lit-up air of AT&T Park. The fans are into the tame middle-innings quiet, bundled up in the summertime coats that are the official attire for San Francisco baseball. On the mound for New York is Jacob deGrom, whose surname roughly translates, in Californian, to “of young surfer”. He’s maintaining, still, the stubborn and uncut mop flop hair flowing out onto both shoulders from underneath his blue cap, and has the frustrated look in his eyes of a player who’s become the team star by default, an all-talented group of colleagues fallen by the injured wayside, back into .500 territory.

Buster Posey comes up first for the Giants, who themselves have sunken into the spot of second-most disappointing team on the year next to these Mets, taking the first pitch for a ball from deGrom.

There’s a temporary McDonald’s ad along the backstop for “Smoothies, Frappés, Shakes,” and a distant memory pops up of the sole other time I’ve heard the middle of those three words. Frappé…Frappé…Frappé… and a sort of Homer Simpson babbling takes place until I can finally place it—the snowmen and flurries of the great Frappe Snowland, classic circuit course from the fantastic Mario Kart 64, the still-unmatched pinnacle in the hall of racing-game fame. And so, unsure of how that might relate, then with the bizarre logic of a conspiracy theory consider this: that game, as one of its many strokes of genius, rewards those who fall behind—better odds for a top item here, better speed there—so when you look at these struggling Giants, down 4-0 early to the Mets, it’s not without a sense of hope, that all can be forgiven, undone, in a single lap’s inning’s notice. Game on, someone says at the ballpark, with a trio of red shells awarded to the home team. Game on, indeed.

Posey readies for the pitch from deGrom, lets rip, and swings an accidental, halfway swing, dribbling a bunt-like roller down the line toward third. D’Arnaud charges, palms it, and the throw comes in just late, bang-bang as Posey steps on the bag in a tie. The Mets refrain from the challenge—and so it’s one on, no out.

Brandon Crawford steps up next, lining the first pitch he sees into centerfield on a rope. Two on now, and no out.

Hunter Pence comes in from the on-deck circle, with a bright orange undershirt, more yellow than the Giants’ true colors, matching to a tee the McDonald’s smoothie behind him on the ad board. DeGrom delivers a wicked curveball, dropping off through the zone, and Pence reaches way low on it, a desperate one-handed hack that has no business being swung.

It flies up into the air, nudged, just barely, over the head of the shortstop and into left-center field for a base hit. A no-look flail turned into one of the best pieces of hitting he’s had all year, as Posey comes home to score and Crawford sprints on to third. The replay, shown many times over, is the stuff of Hunter Pence legend—stumbling over himself in hunt of clean contact, googly-eyed and frazzled as if in that curveball he’d seen a ghost, backing the clumsy way into a run-driving single.

Eduardo Nuñez follows Pence—and rips the first pitch from deGrom down the line in right and into the corner. Crawford comes home to score, Pence comes home to score, and Nuñez stands up on third base with a no-trouble triple.

Nobody out, Nuñez having deftly converted an outside two-seamer into a goofy slap hit sliced down the line, as the conga line of no-out cheeky hits continues. Within five quick minutes, no mound meetings or walks, the home team has leaped in range of the all-important big inning.

Joe Panik comes up and strikes out, for the first out of the inning, and as he heads back to the dugout the ballpark buzzes with attention at the sight of a hero striding up to the plate.

Madison Bumgarner up. The most feared, gifted, dominant of all hitting pitchers—a legend in the making, out for one last 2016 tally onto the proudest statline on his baseball card. One more four-bagger to gobble up and spit out for the sudden lead. Waiting, and waiting, dialed in and waiting, for the first big mistake from deGrom.

The Mets are still up 4-3, one out. The infield in. 0-2 count and Bumgarner pops a foul behind the backstop. Then a defensive knock that almost hits him, trickling foul.

And with a 2-2 count, d’Arnaud sets up outside, deGrom winds up, flings it a good foot in from the target. Fastball over the middle, the spot missed all the way. A second later, over the roar of a crowd gone wild, Jon Miller goes far wilder, with the play-by-play broadcast call: “Pelota!! Bummmagarner!! And the Giants have gone ahead, hwfive to four!!”

Bumgarner drills it into the first row in left. Two runs come home, and the Giants lead 5-4. He trots back to the dugout, Bruce Bochy beaming, clapping the proud clap of a father-son relationship come to its very best, highest moment.

That lit this place up like a big ‘ol candle!” says the broadcast color guy, now ecstatic.

Jacob deGrom, as the inning closes, stalks off the mound with the power of his haircut fading from the intimidating, the leonine, into the clownish gimmick getup that appears when the light shines just just right. His face frowns and mood sours. He gets out of the frame with no more trouble after Bumgarner. But the 4-0 lead lost, with the quickest big inning of the year—no walks, no step-offs, no mound meetings, and no assessing pauses. Just an onslaught of sneak slap hits, baserunners creeping ahead on base, and the stage set for Sir Bumgarner’s greatest act yet.

The saving, they all pray, of these quick-collapsing 2016 Giants.

 

Previously:

Inning 53: The Cueto Shimmy

Inning 73: Brandon Crawford For Seven

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